If you watched the Toronto Maple Leafs opening night matchup with their long-time rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, you likely would’ve seen a lot of goals and a 5-4 overtime win for the Maple Leafs. What you might not have seen was the cross checking in front of the net on both sides of the puck, but specifically the ones that led to Maple Leafs’ star Auston Matthews skating off the ice grimacing.

While defending players have been using their sticks to clear the front of the net for decades, the stick jobs and cross checks have become more and more noticeable as of late with some players taking exception to how often or how little it’s called on a night to night basis and based off which crew is calling the game.

With that said, Matthews took to the microphone following his team’s victory on Wednesday to discuss the rough-housing going on in front of the Montreal net and the need for consistency in making those calls.

What About Retaliation

Now, Matthews isn’t the only player to face this sort of abuse in front of the net. Fans of the Canadiens will argue that Brendan Gallagher has taken the same sort of ‘stingers’ in front of the net for years. But does that make it okay?

To many, Gallagher has been a ‘star’ for the Canadiens. And when Matthews’ agent called for protection for the NHL’s star players he wasn’t just speaking about his client. Rather a look at the grey area that is the NHL’s rulebook altogether. After all, they revisited slashing calls after Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau took a slash on the hands the ultimately broke a bone.

So how is this resolved? We know that if the offensive player were to retaliate, they would more than likely face some kind of discipline, as Mike Johnson pointed out. Does that mean retaliation is out of the question? Or this simply a result of players not being afraid of answering the bell for going after star players?

A comment like this has brought far more questions than solutions. Yes, the 220-pound Matthews can more than handle the chops to the back for now, simply brushing them off as stingers. But these jabs aren’t part of the game to the same extent they are welcomed in a game like lacrosse.

Grey area or not, it’s something the league should look to continue to call on a consistent basis, no?

Maple Leafs, Canadiens: A Season-Long Battle

Regardless of what side of the spectrum you sit on – and neither one is technically wrong – it’s interesting to see a star player speak out about it the way that Matthews did, subtly bringing into question the refereeing in that instance.

But don’t forget, with the 2020-21 realignment this is just one of ten meetings between the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs. It’s also worth reminding you that this Maple Leafs team isn’t the same pushover team they have been in past seasons and that could mean more battles between Chiarot and Simmonds or maybe Joe Thornton will take exception of the beating Matthews is taking in front of the net and have something to say about it.

Like it or not, this is going to be a season-long battle between the Maple Leafs and Canadiens. And while Matthews won’t shy away from going to the net and likely hasn’t seen the last of the crosschecks to the lower back, it could be a different result the next time Weber or Chiarot choose to go about their business that way.

The Maple Leafs will visit Montreal on Feb. 10 for their next meeting of the season.

This article first appeared on The Hockey Writers and was syndicated with permission.

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